Is there a baker in the house? a.k.a. "You ain't got no alibi." - After the team barely showed up in Muncie, Bulls fans were looking for a sharp performance against a Huskies team that had already fallen to the Bulls in Amherst already this season.
Instead of a 16-0 lead, we were instead treated to a basetball-like substance. While it was happening, I wrote here in my notes about the five early turnovers, because foolish me thought it would stop soon. UB's fifth and 6th turnovers came on offensive fouls from Javon McCrea and Jarod Oldham. Through much of the first half NIU and UB had pretty similar numbers but the difference on the scoreboard could be attributed entirely to UB's TEN turnovers in the first ten minutes. At half, there's some (very small) consolation to be found in the fact that the Bulls finished with 12 after that horrid first ten minutes.
10 Minute Snooze Alarm - Now we know how UB works its alarm clocks in the morning. While UB never really dominated a much worse Northern Ilinois, they did play something that I would actually call basketball in the second ten minutes. Consecutive transition buckets - one on a Freelove jam, and one on McCrea cleaning up a botched Xavier Ford jam (they're all worth two, guys) - tied it up at 15 and forced an NIU time out.
In the last 4 minutes UB really started to turn it on, as they flirted with a ten point lead until two threes from Aksel Bolin (what a name!) helped the Huskies close to 34-29 at the half.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Three Point Shot - After a 1-14 performance from beyond the arc in Muncie, to say I was a little concerned about the team's three point shooting would be an understatement. We all know we were spoiled with Zach Filzen, but apart from some timely threes from Josh Freelove this year's Bulls team has not been good from distance. Even Freelove is shooting only 38% - good, but not great numbers for a teams go-to guard.
This afternoon, 11 minutes in neither team hit a three until Auraum Nuiriankh with 8 minutes left. Will Regan hit another right after to take a 21-19 lead. UB would go on to finish the half 5-7 from three as they found their stroke and were able to spread out the NIU defense.
Rebounding- Where has it gone? The perennial strength of UB has dwindled on this road trip. At the half UB was getting outrebounded 15-11 after also getting beat on the boards by Ball State. This isn't just a case of playing strong forwards, either. BSU forward Majok Majok had just 5 boards on Thursday, and NIUs first half boards were spread around several different players.
#ReleasetheKraken - In what will probably be a permanent part of Instant Reactions, today's #krakenwatch comes in the first half. Fortunately, Javon McCrea was not the only player for UB in the first half, but he was able to pitch in nine points and pull down three boards in the first half.
On the defensive side of the ball, Northern Illinois was able to find space on the baseline while McCrea was sitting. I'm not a huge Xs and Os guy, but without Javon, UB defenders were either too fast in their help defense, leaving a Huskie open in the paint, or too slow, leaving the post defender one on one in the charge/block zone. For the most part the Huskies were fortunately unable to take advantage.
Shooting - Happily, all the turnovers disguised the fact that UB shot over 60% in the first half. In addition to McCrea's contributions, Freelove finished the half with 9, and Regan poured in 6.
Adventures in Pep Bands - At one point a solitary trombone playing a slowed down ballad version of Basket Case by Green Day, while other low brass just kept the beat underneath. I gotta say, at first I didn't like it, but it sounded good. Kudos to the NIU band for playing something I haven't heard from a pep band before.
Free Throw Shooting - After a bunch of technicals were called early in the half, it became apparent that shooting from the line would be a key to the rest of the game. At the under-16 media timeout, UB already had committed 5 fouls, NIU 4.
UB with just over 4 minutes to play was 6-14 in the second half and would finish shooting 19 of 32 from the stripe. Even a ten point lead late didn't feel safe when NIU went into intentional foul territory.
Kudos to Will Regan and Justin Moss, who did not miss a free throw on the day.
This Team Has Got To Learn How To Play On The Road - Not even trying for a witty title here. This is a fact. Undefeated at Alumni but stuck in dogfights in Muncie and DeKalb.
Five minutes in with Northern Illinois within four, Josh Freelove racked up his second technical foul of the half after being fouled on an and-one and was ejected. Bobby Hurley also was called for a technical reacting to a call.
There is so much to unpack here. This team should not be only up four to Northern Illinois, whether on the road or not. A senior leader with 13 points needs to play smarter when he's playing with a technical, and with Jarryn Skeete out to injury. I love Bobby Hurley's fire, but listening to the broadcast guys it's apparent that he's viewed as a hothead whose style of working the refs is detrimental to his team. I would disagree, but it was pretty easy for the NIU guys to openly laugh at Hurley in this sequence.
Auraum Returns and Backcourt Depth- With Jarryn Skeete out and Freelove ejected, Auraum Nuiriankh was in line for more minutes than he had at any time this season, but notched his third foul with 13 minutes to go.
Talk about a day when we couldn't afford to lose anyone. As mentioned above, Sophomore Jarryn Skeete sat out today due to injury, and UB ended up having to stretch the bench to play the game. In addition to Nuiriankh's 5, Deyshonee Much helped out with 2 and only a single turnover, but in general, the bench hasn't done much lately.
Today was different, as UB was forced to run basically a nine man rotation. Shannon Evans like any freshman is going to have his up and down games, but even his more solid days have come without a lot of points lately. He did get up to eight today, mostly in the final minutes as UB looked to hold onto their lead without Freelove or Oldham, but minimized mistakes in a big way over his 31 minutes to the tune of 5 assists and only one turnover.
More of the Same - Play down to a worse team on the road, and let their crowd get into it as they keep it close deep into the second? Where have I heard that before? I write these posts as the game happens, mostly, and I can tell you that I am not feeling too good right now.
More Adventures in Pep Band - Or not. After McCrea in the minutes leading up to the final media time out put in 4 straight UB points as the Bulls built an eight point 63-55 lead, there was a sequence during the break where the PA guy desperately tried to get the few hundred fans in attendance to chant N - I - U with him. Give me more Green Day next time.
Young Guys Late - After Jarod Oldham fouled out with under four to play, UB would have to rely on Shannon Evans and Deyshonee Much to help close out the game from the backcourt. Any armchair quarterback would say just stay out of the way, don't mess up, and let McCrea take care of business. Fortunately that's exactly what happened. A big reverse jam with about two minutes left certainly helped, creating a 10 point lead.
Stat of the Game: Joshua Freelove two Technicals, Jarod Oldham five personal fouls.
Player of the Game: #releasethekraken. McCrea finished with 20 points, 8 boards, and 8 key points in the final five minutes.
UB next plays this Wednesday, when they host Western Michigan at 7:00 PM in Alumni Arena.